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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Gem on the Golden Ring

Gazing over the skyline of Yaroslavl in 2010, onlookers will be drawn to the cupolas and crosses of the 58-meter-high Uspensky Cathedral and caught up in the nostalgia for Old Russia.

But the church will stand more than 18 meters taller than the original, which was torn down in the 1930s. Some experts have argued that the new design is a betrayal of the city's history. Savvy tourists will not be surprised to find one version of the past replace another, even one that may have never existed in this city preparing to celebrate a millennium in 2010.

Regardless, the heart of the city and its allure will remain the historic atmosphere created by the proliferation of Orthodox churches and the mute power of the Volga.

Yaroslavl, 280 kilometers northeast of Moscow, stands at the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl rivers.

Celebrated for its 17th-century churches and as an example of neoclassical radial urban planning, implemented through reforms ordered by Catherine the Great, Yaroslavl's city center was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, in 2005.

When you stand on Sovietskaya Ploshchad and can see two medieval towers, the statue of Lenin on Red Square and, in 2010, the immense Uspensky Cathedral on the Volga, you will understand the power of the design. The effect is the experience of history all at once.

John Wendle / MT
A group of Yaroslavl's priests process past the Holy Town Church after blessing the site of the new Uspensky Cathedral.
Arriving, a visitor first sees Soviet-era apartments, but a quick drive down Prospekt Svobody and the onion domes appear.

Once in town, the historic center of the city is the south-facing triangle of land wedged between the meeting of the two rivers, called the strelka, or arrow. In ancient times, this area served as a defensive position.

Pre-Christian inhabitants of the strelka were said to have worshiped a bear until the early 11th century when Yaroslav the Wise, grand prince of Kiev, came and killed the god with a battle-ax. The citizens must have gotten the message -- the city was once supposedly home to more than 700 churches.

The History Museum of Yaroslavl is worth a look. The diorama of ancient Yaroslavl is fascinating, gives context and is helpful before a walk around town. Small wooden houses dot the miniature strelka and the defensive logic of the town becomes clear.

John Wendle / MT
The strelka, between the Kotorosl and Volga, was home to the city's first fort.
In the center of town, one is surrounded by dozens of churches. One of the most arresting stands on Bogoyavlenskaya Ploshchad. The Church of the Epiphany, with its striking black cupolas, has a severe countenance that contrasts sharply with the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, the pastoral fairy tale of whitewashed walls and green and gold cupolas that stands on Sovietskaya Ploshchad. While the former is a functioning church, the latter also doubles as a museum, housing some of the city's finest frescoes.

The Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, in its green and white regalia, is echoed by most of the other churches in town, including the less whimsical but more strangely named Church of Nicholas of the Wooden Town and the more impressive Holy Town church. Heading west from these churches along the bank of the Kotorosl, you will soon reach the whitewashed towers and fortress-thick walls of the 12th-century Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery. Built on the site of the pagan temple where the bear god was worshipped, it has been rebuilt over time.

The walls block the city noise and the atmosphere is soothing. The place strongly evokes medieval days with its iron-studded portcullis at the Kotorosl gate. Single travelers will find themselves free to wander, unbothered by museum docents, and may soon find themselves up on the high walls of the monastery making the hissing sound of imaginary arrows shooting by as they peer out of the arrow slits at the numerous cupolas beyond.

How to Get There

Trains leave from the Yaroslavl station in northeast Moscow. It's most convenient and comfortable to take a commuter train from the Yaroslavl station at Komsomolskaya Ploshchad at 8:24 a.m. or 4:35 p.m. Return trains leave for Moscow at 7:15 a.m. and 4:35 p.m. Tickets range from 250 to 500 rubles and the journey takes about four hours. The most comfortable train is No. 94, which leaves at the same time, but tickets range from 800 to 1,200 rubles. Also, most trains bound for Siberia pass through Yaroslavl, so there are many options. The train passes the domes of Sergiyev Posad on the way. After arriving at Yaroslavl's train station, take the No. 1 trolleybus for 8 rubles to Volkov Square.

Where to Stay

The Hotel Yubileinaya is a large, Soviet-era hotel above the Kotorosl. Though not luxurious, it is renovated. Rooms run 1,800 to 2,600 rubles per night. The Restaurant Chateau at the hotel has international cuisine.

26 Kotoroslnaya Nab., (4852) 72-65-65, 30-73-63,

The Hotel Volga is a great option for the budget traveler and its high-ceilinged rooms evoke a feel of historical Russia. Rooms run about 600 to 1,800 rubles per night.

Ul. Kirova, (4852) 73-11-11.

What to See

The History Museum: Originally a merchant's house, it is now home to an interesting panorama of Yaroslavl's historic layout, a huge axe big enough to kill a bear and an installation explaining how the city stood up to the Red Army during the Civil War. The entry fee is 15 rubles.

17 Volzhskaya Nab., (4852) 30-41-75.

Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery: With its calm atmosphere and restaurant, it is a great place to end the day after a walk around the old city center. From Mon. to Wed. the entry ranges in price from 10 to 50 rubles, and from Thu. to Sun. it's 130 rubles.

25 Bogoyavlenskaya Ploshchad, (4852) 30-3869,

Church of St. Elijah the Prophet: The fairytale architecture outside and the bright murals inside by 17th-century Kostroma painter Yury Nikitin make the church a must-see. The entry fee is 60 rubles. Located on Sovietskaya Ploshchad.

Where to Eat

The Spasskiye Palaty restaurant is situated right in the Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery Museum and has an extensive menu of Russian staples.

25 Bogoyavlenskaya Ploshchad, (4852) 30-38-69.

Bristol: European and Russian dishes can be had in either a bright cafe atmosphere or in a more formal dining room right on the city's main pedestrian street. Meals are about 200 to 500 rubles.

10 Ul. Kirova, (4852) 72-94-08.

Poplavok: A restaurant/boat on the Volga provides a unique dining experience. Some excellent fish dishes come out of this kitchen. Meals run about 500 to 800 rubles. The restaurant is the big (and only) white riverboat moored on the bank of the Volga near the strelka.